Schumann: Manfred

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Manfred
PERFORMER: Gudrun Sieber (soprano), Gabriele Schreckenbach (mezzo-soprano), Alejandro Ramirez (tenor), Harald Stamm (bass); RIAS Chamber Choir, German SO Berlin/Gerd Albrecht
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6774-2 Reissue (1984)
Schumann was wont to give himself sleepless nights reading the literature of his Romantic contemporaries when it was hot off the press, and raising his already high emotional temperature to fever pitch. Byron’s dark-hearted Manfred, for whom apprehension and knowledge were nothing but pain, and whose spiritual aspiration led only to disillusionment, was a ready soulmate. And the ‘dramatic poem’ Schumann was inspired to compose in response to his reading comes into its own when the listener’s imagination can, in turn, roam freely in the concentrated focus of private CD listening – especially when presented with a performance both as refined and as rigorous as that conducted by Gerd Albrecht, on this welcome reissue of a recording taken from a 1984 Berlin radio broadcast.

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Schumann knew when to set and when not to set; and his perfectly scaled amalgam of drama, poetry and the picturesque has Manfred speaking, not singing, over a subtly expressive musical subtext in the so-called ‘melodrama’ form. Klausjürgen Wussow’s compelling narration is extended by more Byronic dialogue in Albrecht’s own expanded text; and both the RIAS Chamber Choir and soprano and alto soloists give eloquent performances. There is no English translation, so those with little or no German should keep their Byron handy. Hilary Finch